The Phantom Rickshaw by Rudyard Kipling
May no ill dreams disturb my rest,
Nor Powers of Darkness me molest.
ONE of the few advantages that India has over England is a great
Knowability. After five years' service a man is directly or
indirectly acquainted with the two or three hundred Civilians in his
Province, all the Messes of ten or twelve Regiments and Batteries,
and some fifteen hundred other people of the non-official caste. In
ten years his knowledge should be doubled, and at the end of
twenty he knows, or knows something about, every Englishman in
the Empire, and may travel anywhere and everywhere without
Globe-trotters who expect entertainment as a right, have, even
within my memory, blunted this open-heartedness, but none the
less to-day, if you belong to the Inner Circle and are neither a Bear
nor a Black Sheep, all houses are open to you, and our small world
is very, very kind and helpful.
Rickett of Kamartha stayed with Polder of Kumaon some fifteen
years ago. He meant to stay two nights, but was knocked down by
rheumatic fever, and for six weeks disorganized Polder's
establishment, stopped Polder's work, and nearly died in Polder's
bedroom. Polder behaves as though he had been placed under
eternal obligation by Rickett, and yearly sends the little Ricketts a
box of presents and toys. It is the same everywhere. The men who
do not take the trouble to conceal from you their opinion that you
are an incompetent ass, and the women who blacken your
character and misunderstand your wife's amusements, will work
themselves to the bone in your behalf if you fall sick or into
Heatherlegh, the Doctor, kept, in addition to his regular practice, a
hospital on his private account-an arrangement of loose boxes for
Incurables, his friend called it-but it was really a sort of fitting-up
shed for craft that had been damaged by stress of weather. The
weather in India is often sultry, and since the tale of bricks is
always a fixed quantity, and the only liberty allowed is permission
to work overtime and get no thanks, men occasionally break down
and become as mixed as the metaphors in this sentence.
Heatherlegh is the dearest doctor that ever was, and his invariable
prescription to all his patients is, "lie low, go slow, and keep cool."
He says that more men are killed by overwork than the importance
of this world justifies. He maintains that overwork slew Pansay,
who died under his hands about three years ago. He has, of course,
the right to speak authoritatively, and he laughs at my theory that
there was a crack in Pansay's head and a little bit of the Dark
World came through and pressed him to death. "Pansay went off
the handle," says Heatherlegh, "after the stimulus of long leave at
Home. He may or he may not have behaved like a blackguard to
Mrs. Keith-Wessington. My notion is that the work of the
Katabundi Settlement ran him off his legs, and that he took to
brooding and making much of an ordinary P. & 0. flirtation. He
certainly was engaged to Miss Mannering, and she certainly broke
off the engagement. Then he took a feverish chill and all that
nonsense about ghosts developed. Overwork started his illness,
kept it alight, and killed him poor devil. Write him off to the
System-one man to take the work of two and a half men."
I do not believe this. I used to sit up with Pansay sometimes when
Heatherlegh was called out to patients, and I happened to be within
claim. The man would make me most unhappy by describing in a
low, even voice, the procession that was always passing at the
bottom of his bed. He had a sick man's command of language.
When he recovered I suggested that he should write out the whole
affair from beginning to end, knowing that ink might assist him to
ease his mind. When little boys have learned a new bad word they
are never happy till they have chalked it up on a door. And this
also is Literature.
He was in a high fever while he was writing, and the blood-and-
thunder Magazine diction he adopted did not calm him. Two
months afterward he was reported fit for duty, but, in spite of the
fact that he was urgently needed to help an undermanned
Commission stagger through a deficit, he preferred to die; vowing
at the last that he was hag-ridden. I got his manuscript before he
died, and this is his version of the affair, dated 1885:
My doctor tells me that I need rest and change of air. It is not
improbable that I shall get both ere long-rest that neither the
red-coated messenger nor the midday gun can break, and change
of air far beyond that which any homeward-bound steamer can
give me. In the meantime I am resolved to stay where I am; and,
in flat defiance of my doctor's orders, to take all the world into my
confidence. You shall learn for yourselves the precise nature of
my malady; and shall, too, judge for yourselves whether any man
born of woman on this weary earth was ever so tormented as I.
Speaking now as a condemned criminal might speak ere the
drop-bolts are drawn, my story, wild and hideously improbable as
it may appear, demands at least attention. That it will ever receive
credence I utterly disbelieve. Two months ago I should have
scouted as mad or drunk the man who had dared tell me the like.
Two months ago I was the happiest man in India. Today, from
Peshawur to the sea, there is no one more wretched. My doctor
and I are the only two who know this. His explanation is, that my
brain, digestion, and eyesight are all slightly affected; giving rise
to my frequent and persistent "delusions." Delusions, indeed! I
call him a fool; but he attends me still with the same unwearied
smile, the same bland professional manner, the same neatly
trimmed red whiskers, till I begin to suspect that I am an
ungrateful, evil-tempered invalid. But you shall judge for
Three years ago it was my fortune my great misfortune to sail from
Gravesend to Bombay, on return from long leave, with one Agnes
Keith-Wessington, wife of an officer on the Bombay side. It does
not in the least concern you to know what manner of woman she
was. Be content with the knowledge that, ere the voyage had
ended, both she and I were desperately and unreasoningly in love
with one another. Heaven knows that I can make the admission
now without one particle of vanity. In matters of this sort there is
always one who gives and another who accepts. From the first day
of our ill-omened attachment, I was conscious that Agnes's
passion was a stronger, a more dominant, and-if I may use the
expression-a purer sentiment than mine. Whether she recognized
the fact then, I do not know. Afterward it was bitterly plain to both
Arrived at Bombay in the spring of the year, we went our
respective ways, to meet no more for the next three or four
months, when my leave and her love took us both to Simla. There
we spent the season together; and there my fire of straw burned
itself out to a pitiful end with the closing year. I attempt no
excuse. I make no apology. Mrs. Wessington had given up much
for my sake, and was prepared to give up all. From my own lips,
in August, 1882, she learned that I was sick of her presence, tired
of her company, and weary of the sound of her voice. Ninety-nine
women out of a hundred would have wearied of me as I wearied of
them; seventy-five of that number would have promptly avenged
themselves by active and obtrusive flirtation 'with other men. Mrs.
Wessington was the hundredth. On her neither my openly
expressed aversion nor the cutting brutalities with which I
garnished our interviews had the least effect.
"Jack, darling!" was her one eternal cuckoo cry: "I'm sure it's all a
mistake -a hideous mistake; and we'll be good friends again some
day. Please forgive me, Jack, dear."
I was the offender, and I knew it. That knowledge transformed my
pity into passive endurance, and, eventually, into blind hat~the
same instinct, I suppose, which prompts a man to savagely stamp
on the spider he has but half killed. And with this hate in my
bosom the season of 1882 came to an end.
Next year we met again at Simla-she with her monotonous face
and timid attempts at reconciliation, and I with loathing of her in
every fibre of my frame. Several times I could not avoid meeting
her alone; and on each occasion her words were identically the
same. Still the unreasoning wail that it was all a "mistake"; and
still the hope of eventually "making friends." I might have seen
had I cared to look, that that hope only was keeping her alive. She
grew more wan and thin month by month. You will agree with
me, at least, that such conduct would have driven any one to
despair. It was uncalled for; childish; unwomanly. I maintain that
she was much to blame. And again, sometimes, in the black,
fever-stricken night-watches, I have begun to think that I might
have been a little kinder to her. But that really is a "delusion." I
could not have continued pretending to love her when I didn't;
could I? It would have been unfair to us both.
Last year we met again-on the same terms as before. The same
weary appeal, and the same curt answers from my lips. At least I
would make her see how wholly wrong and hopeless were her
attempts at resuming the old relationship. As the season wore on,
we fell apart-that is to say, she found it difficult to meet me, for I
had other and more absorbing interests to attend to. When I think it
over quietly in my sick-room, the season of 1884 seems a confused
nightmare wherein light and shade were fantastically intermingled
-my courtship of little Kitty Mannering; my hopes, doubts, and
fears; our long rides together; my trembling avowal of attachment;
her reply; and now and again a vision of a white face flitting by in
the 'rickshaw with the black and white liveries I once watched for
so earnestly; the wave of Mrs. Wessington's gloved hand; and,
when she met me alone, which was but seldom, the irksome
monotony of her appeal. I loved Kitty Mannering; honestly,
heartily loved her, and with my love for her grew my hatred for
Agnes. In August Kitty and I were engaged. The next day I met
those accursed "magpie" jhampanies at the back of Jakko, and,
moved by some passing sentiment of pity, stopped to tell Mrs.
Wessington everything. She knew it already.
"So I hear you're engaged, Jack dear." Then, without a moment's
pause -"I'm sure it's all a mistake-a hideous mistake. We shall be as
good friends some day, Jack, as we ever were."
My answer might have made even a man wince. It cut the dying
woman before me like the blow of' a whip. "Please forgive me,
Jack; I didn't mean to make you angry; but it's true, it's true!"
And Mrs. Wessington broke down completely. I turned away and
left her to finish her journey in peace, feeling, but only for a
moment or two, that I had been an unutterably mean hound. I
looked back, and saw that she had turned her 'rickshaw with the
idea, I suppose, of overtaking me.
The scene and its surroundings were photographed on my memory.
The rain-swept sky (we were at the end of the wet weather), the
sodden, dingy pines, the muddy road, and the black powder-riven
cliffs formed a gloomy background against which the black and
white liveries of the jhampanies, the yellow-paneled 'rickshaw and
Mrs. Wessington's down-bowed golden head stood out clearly.
She was holding her handkerchief in her left hand and was leaning
hack exhausted against the 'rickshaw cushions. I turned my horse
up a bypath near the Sanjowlie Reservoir and literally ran away.
Once I fancied I heard a faint call of "Jack!" This may have been
imagination. I never stopped to verify it. Ten minutes later I came
across Kitty on horseback; and, in the delight of a long ride with
her, forgot all about the interview.
A week later Mrs. Wessington died, and the inexpressible burden
of her existence was removed from my life. I went Plainsward
perfectly happy. Before three months were over I had forgotten all
about her, except that at times the discovery of some of her old
letters reminded me unpleasantly of our bygone relationship. By
January I had disinterred what was left of our correspondence from
among my scattered belongings and had burned it. At the
beginning of April of this year, 1885, I was at Simla-semi-deserted
Simla-once more, and was deep in lover's talks and walks with
Kitty. It was decided that we should be married at the end of June.
You will understand, therefore, that, loving Kitty as I did, I am not
saying too much when I pronounce myself to have been, at that
time, the happiest man in India.
Fourteen delightful days passed almost before I noticed their flight.
Then, aroused to the sense of what was proper among mortals
circumstanced as we were, I pointed out to Kitty that an
engagement ring was the outward and visible sign of her dignity as
an engaged girl; and that she must forthwith come to Hamilton's to
be measured for one. Up to that moment, I give you my word, we
had completely forgotten so trivial a matter. To Hamilton's we
accordingly went on the 15th of April, 1885. Remember
that-whatever my doctor may say to the contrary-I was then in
perfect health, enjoying a well-balanced mind and an absolute
tranquil spirit. Kitty and I entered Hamilton's shop together, and
there, regardless of the order of affairs, I measured Kitty for the
ring in the presence of the amused assistant. The ring was a
sapphire with two diamonds. We then rode out down the slope
that leads to the Combermere Bridge and Peliti's shop.
While my Waler was cautiously feeling his way over the loose
shale, and Kitty was laughing and chattering at my side-while all
Simla, that is to say as much of it as had then come from the
Plains, was grouped round the Reading-room and Peliti's
veranda,-I was aware that some one, apparently at a vast distance,
was calling me by my Christian name. It struck me that I had heard
the voice before, but when and where I could not at once
determine. In the short space it took to cover the road between the
path from Hamilton's shop and the first plank of the Comber-mere
Bridge I had thought over half a dozen people who might have
committed such a solecism, and had eventually decided that it
must have been singing in my ears. Immediately opposite Peliti's
shop my eye was arrested by the sight of four jharnpanies in
"magpie" livery, pulling a yellow-paneled, cheap, bazar 'rickshaw.
In a moment my mind flew back to the previous season and Mrs.
Wessington with a sense of irritation and disgust. Was it not
enough that the woman was dead and done with, without her black
and white servitors reappearing to spoil the day's happiness?
Whoever employed them now I thought I would call upon, and ask
as a personal favor to change her Jhampanies' livery. I would hire
the men myself, and, if necessary, buy their coats from off their
backs. It is impossible to say here what a flood of undesirable
memories their presence evoked.
"Kitty," I cried, "there are poor Mrs. Wessington's jhampanies
turned up again! I wonder who has them now?"
Kitty had known Mrs. Wessington slightly last season, and had
always been interested in the sickly woman.
"What? Where?" she asked. "I can't see them anywhere."
Even as she spoke her horse, swerving from a laden mule, threw
himself directly in front of the advancing 'rickshaw. I had scarcely
time to utter a word of warning when, to my unutterable horror,
horse and rider passed through men and carriage as if they had
been thin air.
"What's the matter?" cried Kitty; "what made you call out so
foolishly, Jack? If I am engaged I don't want all creation to know
about it. There was lots of space between the mule and the
veranda; and, if you think I can't ride
Whereupon wilful Kitty set off, her dainty little head in the air, at a
hand-gallop in the direction of the Bandstand; fully expecting, as
she herself afterward told me, that I should follow her. What was
the matter? Nothing indeed. Either that I was mad or drunk, or
that Simla was haunted with devils. I reined in my impatient cob,
and turned round. The 'rickshaw had turned too, and now stood
immediately facing me, near the left railing of the Comber-mere
"Jack! Jack, darling!" (There was no mistake about the words this
time: they rang through my brain as if they had been shouted in my
ear.) "It's some hideous mistake, I'm sure. Please forgive me, jack,
and let's be friends again."
The 'rickshaw-hood had fallen back, and inside, as I hope and pray
daily for the death I dread by night, sat Mrs. Keith-Wessington,
handkerchief in hand, and golden head bowed on her breast.
How long I stared motionless I do not know. Finally, I was
aroused by my ysce taking the Waler's bridle and asking whether I
was ill. From the horrible to the commonplace is but a step. I
tumbled off my horse and dashed, half fainting, into Peliti's for a
glass of cherry-brandy. There two or three couples were gathered
round the coffee-tables discussing the gossip of the day. Their
trivialities were more comforting to me just then than the
consolations of religion could have been. I plunged into the midst
of the conversation at once; chatted, laughed, and jested with a
face (when I caught a glimpse of it in a mirror) as white and drawn
as that of a corpse. Three or four mem noticed my condition; and,
evidently setting it down to the results of over-many pegs,
charitably endeavoured to draw me apart from the rest of the
loungers. But I refused to be led away. I wanted the company of
my kind-as a child rushes into the midst of the dinner-party after a
fright in the dark. I must have talked for about ten minutes or so,
though it seemed an eternity to me, when I heard Kitty's clear
voice outside inquiring for me. In another minute she had entered
the shop, prepared to roundly upbraid me for failing so signally in
my duties. Something in my face stopped her.
"Why, Jack," she cried, "what have you been doing? What has
happened? Are you ill?" Thus driven into a direct lie, I said that
the sun had been a little too much for me. It was close upon five
o'clock of a cloudy April afternoon, and the sun had been hidden
all day. I saw my mistake as soon as the words were out of my
mouth: attempted to recover it; blundered hopelessly and followed
Kitty in a regal rage, out of doors, amid the smiles of my
acquaintances. I made some excuse (I have forgotten what) on the
score of my feeling faint; and cantered away to my hotel, leaving
Kitty to finish the ride by herself.
In my room I sat down and tried calmly to reason out the matter.
Here was I, Theobald Jack Pansay, a well-educated Bengal
Civilian in the year of grace, 1885, presumably sane, certainly
healthy, driven in terror from my sweetheart's side by the
apparition of a woman who had been dead and buried eight
months ago. These were facts that I could not blink. Nothing was
further from my thought than any memory of Mrs. Wessington
when Kitty and I left Hamilton's shop. Nothing was more utterly
commonplace than the stretch of wall opposite Peliti's. It was
broad daylight. The road was full of people; and yet here, look
you, in defiance of every law of probability, in direct outrage of
Nature's ordinance, there had appeared to me a face from the
Kitty's Arab had gone through the 'rickshaw: so that my first hope
that some woman marvelously like Mrs. Wessington had hired the
carriage and the coolies with their old livery was lost. Again and
again I went round this treadmill of thought; and again and again
gave up baffled and in despair. The voice was as inexplicable as
the apparition. I had originally some wild notion of confiding it all
to Kitty; of begging her to marry me at once; and in her arms
defying the ghostly occupant of the 'rickshaw. "After all," I
argued, "the presence of the 'rickshaw is in itself enough to prove
the existence of a spectral illusion. One may see ghosts of men and
women, but surely never of
coolies and carriages. The whole thing is absurd Fancy the ghost
of a hill-man!"
Next morning I sent a penitent note to Kitty, imploring her to
overlook my strange conduct of the previous afternoon. My
Divinity was still very wroth, and a personal apology was
necessary. I explained, with a fluency born of night-long pondering
over a falsehood, that I had been attacked with sudden palpitation
of the heart-the result of indigestion. This eminently practical
solution had its effect; and Kitty and I rode out that afternoon with
the shadow of my first lie dividing us.
Nothing would please her save a canter round Jakko. With my
nerves still unstrung from the previous night I feebly protested
against the notion, suggesting Observatory Hill, Jutogh, the
Boileaugunge road - anything rather than the Jakko round. Kitty
was angry and a little hurt: so I yielded from fear of provoking
further misunderstanding, and we set out together toward Chota
Simla. We walked a greater part of the way, and, according to our
custom, cantered from a mile or so below the Convent to the
stretch of level road by the Sanjowlie Reservoir. The wretched
horses appeared to fly, and my heart beat quicker and quicker as
we neared the crest of the ascent. My mind had been full of Mrs.
Wessington all the afternoon; and every inch of the Jakko road
bore witness to our oldtime walks and talks. The bowlders were
full of it; the pines sang it aloud overhead; the rain-fed torrents
giggled and chuck led unseen over the shameful story; and the
wind in my ears chanted the iniquity aloud.
As a fitting climax, in the middle of the level men call the Ladies'
Mile the Horror was awaiting me. No other 'rickshaw was in
sight-only the four black and white jhampanies, the yellow-
paneled carriage, and the golden head of the woman within-all
apparently just as I had left them eight months and one fortnight
ago! For an instant I fancied that Kitty must see what I saw-we
were so marvelously sympathetic in all things. Her next words
undeceived me-'~Not a soul in sight! Come along, Jack, and I'll
race you to the Reservoir buildings!" Her wiry little Arab was off
like a bird, my Waler following close behind, and in this order we
dashed under the cliffs. Half a minute brought us within fifty yards
of the 'rickshaw. I pulled my Waler and fell back a little. The
'rickshaw was directly in the middle of the road; and once more the
Arab passed through it, my horse following. "Jack! Jack dear!
Pease forgive me," rang with a wail in my ears, and, after an
interval:-"It's a mistake, a hideous mistake!"
I spurred my horse like a man possessed. When I turned my head
at the Reservoir works, the black and white liveries were still
waiting-patiently waiting-under the grey hillside, and the wind
brought me a mocking echo of the words I had just heard. Kitty
bantered me a good deal on my silence throughout the remainder
of the ride. I had been talking up till then wildly and at random.
To save my life I could not speak afterward naturally, and from
Sanjowlie to the Church wisely held my tongue.
I was to dine with the Mannerings that night, and had barely time
to canter home to dress. On the road to Elysium Hill I overheard
two men talking together in the dusk.-"It's a curious thing," said
one, "how completely all trace of it disappeared. You know my
wife was insanely fond of the woman ('never could see anything in
her myself), and wanted me to pick up her old 'rickshaw and
coolies if they were to be got for love or money. Morbid sort of
fancy I call it; but I've got to do what the Memsahib tells me.
Would you believe that the man she hired it from tells me that all
four of the men-they were brothers-died of cholera on the way to
Hardwar, poor devils, and the 'rickshaw has been broken up by the
man himself. 'Told me he never used a dead Memsakib's
'rickshaw. 'Spoiled his luck. Queer notion, wasn't it? Fancy poor
little Mrs. Wessington spoiling any one's luck except her own!" I
laughed aloud at this point; and my laugh jarred on me as I uttered
it. So there were ghosts of 'rickshaws after all, and ghostly
employments in the other world! How much did Mrs. Wessington
give her men? What were their hours? Where did they go?
And for visible answer to my last question I saw the infernal Thing
blocking my path in the twilight. The dead travel fast, and by short
cuts unknown to ordinary coolies. I laughed aloud a second time
and checked my laughter suddenly, for I was afraid I was going
mad. Mad to a certain extent I must have been, for I recollect that
I reined in my horse at the head of the 'rickshaw, and politely
wished Mrs. Wessington "Good-evening." Her answer was one I
knew only too well. I listened to the end; and replied that I had
heard it all before, but should be delighted if she had anything
further to say. Some malignant devil stronger than I must have
entered into me that evening, for I have a dim recollection of
talking the commonplaces of the day for five minutes to the Thing
in front of me.
"Mad as a hatter, poor devil-or drunk. Max, try and get him to
Surely that was not Mrs. Wessington's voice! The two men had
overheard me speaking to the empty air, and had returned to look
after me. They were very kind and considerate, and from their
words evidently gathered that I was extremely drunk. I thanked
them confusedly and cantered away to my hotel, there changed,
and arrived at the Mannerings' ten minutes late. I pleaded the
darkness of the night as an excuse; was rebuked by Kitty for my
unlover-like tardiness; and sat down.
The conversation had already become general; and under cover of
it, I was addressing some tender small talk to my sweetheart when
I was aware that at the further end of the table a short red-
whiskered man was describing, with much broidery, his encounter
with a mad unknown that evening.
A few sentences convinced me that he was repeating the incident
of half an hour ago. In the middle of the story he looked round for
applause, as professional story-tellers do, caught my eye, and
straightway collapsed. There was a moment's awkward silence,
and the red-whiskered man muttered something to the effect that
he had "forgotten the
rest," thereby sacrificing a reputation as a good story~teller which
he had built up for six seasons past. I blessed him from the bottom
of my heart, and-went on with my fish.
In the fulness of time that dinner came to an end; and with genuine
regret I tore myself away from Kitty-as certain as I was of my own
existence that It would be waiting for me outside the door. The
red-whiskered man, who had been introduced to me as Doctor
Heatherlegh, of Simla, volunteered to bear me company as far as
our roads lay together. I accepted his offer with gratitude.
My instinct had not deceived me. It lay in readiness in the Mall,
and, in what seemed devilish mockery of our ways, with a lighted
head-lamp. The red-whiskered man went to the point at once, in a
manner that showed he bad been thinking over it all dinner time.
"I say, Pansay, what the deuce was the matter with you this
evening on the Elysium road?" The suddenness of the question
wrenched an answer from me before I was aware.
"That!." said I, pointing to It.
"That may be either D. T. or Eyes for aught I know. Now you
don't liquor. I saw as much at dinner, so it can't be D. T. There's
nothing whatever where you're pointing, though you're sweating
and trembling with fright like a scared pony. Therefore, I
conclude that it's Eyes. And I ought to understand all about them.
Come along home with me. I'm on the Blessington lower road."
To my intense delight the 'rickshaw instead of waiting for us kept
about twenty yards ahead-and this, too whether we walked, trotted,
or cantered. In the course of that long night ride I had told my
companion almost as much as I have told you here.
"Well, you've spoiled one of the best tales I've ever laid tongue to,"
said he, "but I'll forgive you for the sake of what you've gone
through. Now come home and do what I tell you; and when I've
cured you, young man, let this be a lesson to you to steer clear of
women and indigestible food till the day of your death."
The 'rickshaw kept steady in front; and my red-whiskered friend
seemed to derive great pleasure from my account of its exact
"Eyes, Pansay-all Eyes, Brain, and Stomach. And the greatest of
these three is Stomach. You've too much conceited Brain, too little
Stomach, and thoroughly unhealthy Eyes. Get your Stomach
straight and the rest follows. And all that's French for a liver pill.
I'll take sole medical charge of you from this hour! for you're too
interesting a phenomenon to be passed over."
By this time we were deep in the shadow of the Blessington lower
road and the 'rickshaw came to a dead stop under a pine-clad,
over-hanging shale cliff. Instinctively I halted too, giving my
reason. Heatherlegh rapped out an oath.
'Now, if you think I'm going to spend a cold night on the hillside
for the sake of a stomach-cum-Brain-cum-Eye illusion . . . Lord,
ha' mercy! What's that?"
There was a muffled report, a blinding smother of dust just in front
of us, a crack, the noise of rent boughs, and about ten yards of the
cliff-side-pines., undergrowth, and all-slid down into the road
below, completely blocking it up. The uprooted trees swayed and
tottered for a moment like drunken giants in the gloom, and then
fell prone among their fellows with a thunderous crash. Our two
horses stood motionless and sweating with fear. As soon as the
rattle of falling earth and stone had subsided, my companion
muttered:-"Man, if we'd gone forward we should have been ten
feet deep in our graves by now. 'There are more things in heaven
and earth.' . . . Come home, Pansay, and thank God. I want a peg
We retraced our way over the Church Ridge, and I arrived at Dr.
Heatherlegh's house shortly after midnight.
His attempts toward my cure commenced almost immediately, and
for a week I never left his sight. Many a time in the course of that
week did I bless the good-fortune which had thrown me in contact
with Simla's best and kindest doctor. Day by day my spirits grew
lighter and more equable. Day by day, too, I became more and
more inclined to fall in with Heatherlegh's "spectral illusion"
theory, implicating eyes, brain, and stomach. I wrote to Kitty,
telling her that a slight sprain caused by a fall from my horse kept
me indoors for a few days; and that I should be recovered before
she had time to regret my absence.
Heatherlegh's treatment was simple to a degree. It consisted of
liver pills, cold-water baths, and strong exercise, taken in the dusk
or at early dawn-for, as he sagely observed:-"A man with a
sprained ankle doesn't walk a dozen miles a day, and your young
woman might be wondering if she saw you."
At the end of the week, after much examination of pupil and pulse,
and strict injunction' as to diet and pedestrianism, Heatherlegh
dismissed me as brusquely as he had taken charge of me. Here is
his parting benediction:-"Man, I can certify to your mental cure,
and that's as much as to say I've cured most of your bodily
ailments. Now, get your 'traps out of this as soon as you can; and
be off to make love to Miss Kitty."
I was endeavoring to express my thanks for his kindness. He cut
"Don't think I did this because I like you. I gather that you've
behaved like a blackguard all through. But, all the same, you re a
phenomenon, and as queer a phenomenon as you are a blackguard.
No!"-checking me a second time"not a rupee please. Go out and
see if you can find the eyes-brain-and-stomach business again. I'll
give you a lakh for each time you see it."
Half an hour later I was in the Mannerings' drawing-room with
Kitty-drunk with the intoxication of present happiness and the
fore-knowledge that I should never more be troubled with Its
hideous presence. Strong in the sense of my new-found security, I
proposed a ride at once; and, by preference, a canter round Jakko.
Never had I felt so well, so overladen with vitality and mere
animal spirits, as I did on the afternoon of the 30th of April. Kitty
was delighted at the change in my appearance, and complimented
me on it in her delightfully frank and outspoken manner. We left
the Mannerings' house together, laughing and talking, and cantered
along the Chota Simla road as of old.
I was in haste to reach the Sanjowlie Reservoir and there make my
assurance doubly sure. The horses did their best, but seemed all
too slow to my impatient mind. Kitty was astonished at my
boisterousness. "Why, Jack!" she cried at last, "you are behaving
like a child. What are you doing?"
We were just below the Convent, and from sheer wantonness I was
making my Waler plunge and curvet across the road as I tickled it
with the loop of my riding-whip.
"Doing?" I answered; "nothing, dear. That's just it. If you'd been
doing nothing for a week except lie up, you'd be as riotous as I."
"'Singing and murmuring in your feastful mirth,
Joying to feel yourself alive;
Lord over Nature, Lord of the visible Earth,
Lord of the senses five.'"
My quotation was hardly out of my lips before we had rounded the
corner above the Convent; and a few yards further on could see
across to Sanjowlie. In the centre of the level road stood the black
and white liveries, the yellow-paneled 'rickshaw, and Mrs.
Keith-Wessington. I pulled up, looked, rubbed my eyes, and, I
believe must have said something. The next thing I knew was that
I was lying face downward on the road with Kitty kneeling above
me in tears.
"Has it gone, child I" I gasped. Kitty only wept more bitterly.
"Has what gone, Jack dear? what does it all mean? There must be a
mistake somewhere, Jack. A hideous mistake." Her last words
brought me to my feet-mad-raving for the time being.
"Yes, there is a mistake somewhere," I repeated, "a hideous
mistake. Come and look at It."
I have an indistinct idea that I dragged Kitty by the wrist along the
road up to where It stood, and implored her for pity's sake to speak
to It; to tell It that we were betrothed; that neither Death nor Hell
could break the tie between us; and Kitty only knows how much
more to the same effect. Now and again I appealed passionately to
the Terror in the 'rickshaw to bear witness to all I had said, and to
release me from a torture that was killing me. As I talked I suppose
I must have told Kitty of my old relations with Mrs. Wessington,
for I saw her listen intently with white face and blazing eyes.
"Thank you, Mr. Pansay," she said, "that's quite enough. Syce
The syces, impassive as Orientals always are, had come up with
the recaptured horses; and as Kitty sprang into her saddle I caught
hold of the bridle, entreating her to hear me out and forgive. My
answer was the cut of her riding-whip across my face from mouth
to eye, and a word or two of farewell that even now I cannot write
down. So I judged, and judged rightly, that Kitty knew all; and I
staggered back to the side of the 'rickshaw. My face was cut and
bleeding, and the blow of the riding-whip had raised a livid blue
wheal on it. I had no self-respect. Just then, Heatherlegh, who must
have been following Kitty and me at a distance, cantered up.
"Doctor," I said, pointing to my face, "here's Miss Mannering's
signature to my order of dismissal and . . . I'll thank you for that
lakh as soon as convenient."
Heatherlegh's face, even in my abject misery, moved me to
"I'll stake my professional reputation"
-he began. "Don't be a fool," I whispered. "I've lost my life's
happiness and you'd better take me home."
As I spoke the 'rickshaw was gone. Then I lost all knowledge of
what was passing. The crest of Jakko seemed to heave and roll
like the crest of a cloud and fall in upon me.
Seven days later (on the 7th of May, that is to say) I was aware that
I was lying in Heatherlegh's room as weak as a little child.
Heatherlegh was watching me intently from behind the papers on
his writing-table. His first words were not encouraging; but I was
too far spent to be much moved by them.
"Here's Miss Kitty has sent back your letters. You corresponded a
good deal, you young people. Here's a packet that looks like a ring,
and a cheerful sort of a note from Mannering Papa, which I've
taken the liberty of reading and burning. The old gentleman's not
pleased with you."
"And Kitty?" I asked, dully.
"Rather more drawn than her father from what she says. By the
same token you must have been letting out any number of queer
reminiscences just be. fore I met you. 'Says that a man who would
have behaved to a woman as you did to Mrs. Wessington ought to
kill himself out of sheer pity for his kind. She's a hot-headed little
virago, your mash. 'Will have it too that you were suffering from
D. T. when that row on the Jakko road turned up. 'Says she'll die
before she ever speaks to you again."
I groaned and turned over to the other side.
"Now you've got your choice, my friend. This engagement has to
be broken off; and the Mannerings don't want to be too hard on
you. Was it broken through D. T. or epileptic fits? Sorry I can't
offer you a better exchange unless you'd prefer hereditary insanity.
Say the word and I'll tell 'em it~s fits. All Simla knows about that
scene on the Ladies' Mile. Come! I'll give you five minutes to
think over it."
During those five minutes I believe that I explored thoroughly the
lowest circles of the Inferno which it is permitted man to tread on
earth. And at the same time I myself was watching myself faltering
through the dark labyrinths of doubt, misery, and utter despair. I
wondered, as Heatherlegh in his chair might have wondered,
which dreadful alternative I should adopt. Presently I heard myself
answering in a voice that I hardly recognized,-"They're
about morality in these parts. Give 'em fits, Heatherlegh, and my
love. Now let me sleep a bit longer."
Then my two selves joined, and it was only I (half crazed,
devil-driven I) that tossed in my bed, tracing step by step the
history of the past month.
"But I am in Simla," I kept repeating to myself. "I, Jack Pansay, am
in Simla and there are no ghosts here. It's unreasonable of that
woman to pretend there are. Why couldn't Agnes have left me
alone? I never did her any harm. It might just as well have been
me as Agnes. Only I'd never have come hack on purpose to kill
her. Why can't I be left alone-left alone and happy?"
It was high noon when I first awoke:
and the sun was low in the sky before I slept-slept as the tortured
criminal sleeps on his rack, too worn to feel further pain.
Next day I could not leave my bed. Heatherlegh told me in the
morning that he had received an answer from Mr. Mannering, and
that, thanks to his (Heatherlegh's) friendly offices, the story of
my affliction had traveled through the length and breadth of Simla,
where I was on all sides much pitied.
"And that's rather more than you deserve, ' he concluded,
pleasantly, "though the Lord knows you've been going through a
pretty severe mill. Never mind; we'll cure you yet, you perverse
I declined firmly to be cured. "You've been much too good to me
already, old man," said I; "but I don't think I need trouble you
In my heart I knew that nothing Heatherlegh could do would
lighten the burden that had been laid upon me.
With that knowledge came also a sense of hopeless, impotent
rebellion against the unreasonableness of it all. There were scores
of men no better than I whose punishments had at least been
reserved for another world; and I felt that it was bitterly, cruelly
unfair that I alone should have been singled out for so hideous a
fate. This mood would in time give place to another where it
seemed that the 'rickshaw and I were the only realities in a world
of shadows; that Kitty was a ghost; that Mannering, Heatherlegh,
and all the other men and women I knew were all ghosts; and the
great, grey hills themselves but vain shadows devised to torture
me. From mood to mood I tossed backward and forward for seven
weary days; my body growing daily stronger and strong-er, until
the bedroom looking-glass told me that I had returned to everyday
life, and was as other men once more. Curiously enough my face
showed no signs of the struggle I had gone through. It was pale
indeed, but as expression-less and commonplace as ever. I had
expected some permanent alteration-visible evidence of the
disease that was eating me away. I found nothing.
On the 15th of May, I left Heatherlegh's house at eleven o'clock in
the morning; and the instinct of the bachelor drove me to the Club.
There I found that every man knew my story as told by
Heatherlegh, and was, in clumsy fashion, abnormally kind and
attentive. Nevertheless I recognized that for the rest of my natural
life I should be among but not of my fellows; and I envied very
bitterly indeed the laughing coolies on the Mall below. I lunched
at the Club, and at four o'clock wandered aimlessly down the Mall
in the vague hope of meeting Kitty. Close to the Band-stand the
black and white liveries joined me; and I heard Mrs. Wessington's
old appeal at my side. I had been expecting this ever since I came
out; and was only surprised at her delay. The phantom 'rickshaw
and I went side by side along the Chota Simla road in silence.
Close to the bazar, Kitty and a man on horseback overtook and
passed us. For any sign she gave I might have been a dog in the
road. She did not even pay me the compliment of quickening her
pace; though the rainy afternoon had served for an excuse.
So Kitty and her companion, and I and my ghostly Light-o'-Love,
crept round Jakko in couples. The road was streaming with water;
the pines dripped like roof-pipes on the rocks below, and the air
was full of fine, driving rain. Two or three times I found myself
saying to myself almost aloud:"I'm Jack Pan-say on leave at
Simla~at Simla! Everyday, ordinary Simla. I mustn't forget that-I
mustn't forget that." Then I would try to recollect some of the
gossip I had heard at the Club: the prices of So-and-So's
horses-anything, in fact, that related to the workaday Anglo-Indian
world I knew so well. I even repeated the multiplication-table
rapidly to myself, to make quite sure that I was not taking leave of
my senses. It gave me much comfort; and must have prevented my
hearing Mrs. Wessington for a time.
Once more I wearily climbed the Convent slope and entered the l~
vel road. Here Kitty and the man started off at a canter, and I was
left alone with Mrs. Wessington. "Agnes," said I, "will you put
back your hood and tell me what it all means?" The hood dropped
noiselessly, and I was face to face with my dead and buried
mistress. She was wearing the dress in which I had last seen her
alive; carried the same tiny handkerchief in her right hand; and the
same cardcase in her left. (A woman eight months dead with a
cardcase!) I had to pin myself down to the multiplication-table,
and to set both hands on the stone parapet of the road, to assure
myself that that at least was real.
"Agnes," I repeated, "for pity's sake tell me what it all means."
Mrs. Wessington leaned forward, with that odd, quick turn of the
head I used to know so well, and spoke.
If my story had not already so madly overleaped the hounds of all
human belief I should apologize to you now. As I know that no
one-no, not even Kitty, for whom it is written as some sort of
justification of my conduct-will believe me, I will go on. Mrs.
Wessington spoke and I walked with her from the Sanjowlie road
to the turning below the Commander-in-Chief's house as I might
walk by the side of any living woman's 'rickshaw, deep in
conversation. The second and most tormenting of my moods of
sickness had suddenly laid hold upon me, and like the Prince in
Tennyson's poem, "I seemed to move amid a world of ghosts."
There had been a garden-party at the Commander-in-Chief's, and
we two joined the crowd of homeward-hound folk. As I saw them
then it seemed that they were the shadows-impalpable, fantastic
shadows-that divided for Mrs. Wessington's 'rickshaw to pass
through. What we said during the course of that weird interview I
cannot-indeed, I dare not-tell. Heatherlegh's comment would have
been a short laugh and a remark that I had been "mashing a
brain-eye-and-stomach chimera." It was a ghastly and yet in some
indefinable way a marvelously dear experience. Could it be
possible, I wondered, that I was in this life to woo a second time
the woman I had killed by my own neglect and cruelty?
I met Kitty on the homeward road-a shadow among shadows.
If I were to describe all the incidents of the next fortnight in their
order, my story would never come to an end; and your patience
would he exhausted. Morning after morning and evening after
evening the ghostly 'rickshaw and I used to wander through Simla
together. Wherever I went there the four black and white liveries
followed me and bore me company to and from my hotel. At the
Theatre I found them amid the crowd or yelling jhampanies;
outside the Club veranda, after a long evening of whist; at the
Birthday Ball, waiting patiently for my reappearance; and in broad
daylight when I went calling. Save that it cast no shadow, the
'rickshaw was in every respect as real to look upon as one of wood
and iron. More than once, indeed, I have had to check myself front
warning some hard-riding friend against cantering over it. More
than once I have walked down the Mall deep in conversation with
Mrs. Wessington to the unspeakable amazement of the passers-by.
Before I had been out and about a week I learned that the "fit"
theory had been discarded in favor of insanity. However, I made
no change in my mode of life. I called, rode, and dined out as
freely as ever. I had a passion for the society of my kind which I
had never felt before; I hungered to be among the realities of life;
and at the same time I felt vaguely unhappy when I had been
separated too long from my ghostly companion. It would be almost
impossible to describe my varying moods from the 15th of May
up to to-day.
The presence of the 'rickshaw filled me by turns with horror, blind
fear, a dim sort of pleasure, and utter despair. I dared not leave
Simla; and I knew that my stay there was killing me. I knew,
moreover, that it was my destiny to die slowly and a little every
day. My only anxiety was to get the penance over as quietly as
might be. Alternately I hungered for a sight of Kitty and watched
her outrageous flirtations with my successor-to speak more
accurately, my successors-with amused interest. She was as much
out of my life as I was out of hers. By day I wandered with Mrs.
Wessington almost content. By night I implored Heaven to let me
return to the world as I used to know it. Above all these varying
moods lay the sensation of dull, numbing wonder that the Seen and
the Unseen should mingle so strangely on this earth to hound one
poor soul to its grave.
* * * * * * * * *
August 27.-Heatherlegh has been indefatigable in his attendance
on me; and only yesterday told me that I ought to send in an
application for sick leave. An application to escape the company
of a phantom! A request that the Government would graciously
permit me to get rid of five ghosts and an airy 'rickshaw by going
to England. Heatherlegh's proposition moved me to almost
hysterical laughter. I told him that I should await the end quietly
at Simla; and I am sure that the end is not far off. Believe me that I
dread its advent more than any word can say; and I torture myself
nightly with a thousand speculations as to the manner of my death.
Shall I die in my bed decently and as an English gentleman should
die; or, in one last walk on the Mall, will my soul be wrenched
from me to take its place forever and ever by the side of that
ghastly phantasm? Shall I return to my old lost allegiance in the
next world, or shall I meet Agnes loathing her and bound to her
side through all eternity? Shall we two hover over the scene of our
lives till the end of Time? As the day of my death draws nearer,
the intense horror that all living flesh feels toward escaped spirits
from beyond the grave grows more and more powerful. It is an
awful thing to go down quick among the dead with scarcely
one-half of your life completed. It is a thousand times more awful
to wait as I do in your midst, for I know not what unimaginable
terror. Pity me, at least on the score of my "delusion," for I
know you will never believe what I have written here Yet as
surely as ever a man was done to death by the Powers of Darkness
I am that man.
In justice, too, pity her. For as surely as ever woman was killed by
man, I killed Mrs. Wessington. And the last portion of my
punishment is ever now upon me.